Obesity is associated with numerous chronic conditions diseases. A healthy lifestyle, with a balanced diet and the regular practice of a physical activity, help to prevent weight gain and the many related complications.

Energy imbalance

One of the principal causes of obesity lies in the imbalance between the calories absorbed and the calories used up.

When the body absorbs more energy than it is using, it is ending up laying down fat. For example, the sugars which are not used up are turned into fat.

An unbalanced diet and the lack of physical activity are not the only causes of obesity, but they are the principal causes about which action can be taken.

Other factors may interact and increase the risk of weight gain (stress, genetic predisposition, hormonal disorders, the takingconsumption of certain medicines, depression etc.).

Unbalanced diet

A diet which contributes to weight gain is one which is:

  • rich in quick-release sugars (soft drinks, fruit juices, biscuits, alcohol)
  • rich in saturated fats (chips, crisps, red meat, cheese, sauces, mayonnaise)
  • rich in industrial processed products (white bread, pastries, cold delicatessen)
  • poor in  slow-release sugars (whole grain, pulses)
  • poor in vitamins, minerals and fibres (fruit and vegetables).

The quality and the quantity of the foodstuffs consumed and the way in which one eats is influencing the weight gain:

  • eating quickly, in great quantities
  • eating while doing something else
  • eating irregularly, skipping meals
  • eating to compensate for a psychological malaise (“comfort eating”)
  • going on drastic and restrictive diets one after the other (yoyo effect).

An unbalanced diet may also be influenced by the availability of industrial products, the increase in the portion’s size and the energy value of the foodstuffs, low-cost fast food outlets, advertising, etc.

Lack of physical activity and long periods of being sedentarity

The omnipresence of screens (televisions, computers, mobile phones, video games) and of motorised transport have meant that our habits at work and at leisure have become more sedentary, so reducing the energy expenditure.

One must distinguish between the lack of physical activity and being sedentary: the fact of remaining sitted for a very long period of the day, independently of the level of physical activity otherwise practised, is in itself also a risk factor.

DID YOU KNOW? The stress caused by the fear of being fat is a risk factor in weight gain.

Genetic, hormonal, medical and psychosocial factors

An unbalanced diet and the lack of physical activity are not enough to explain the increase in weight and the inequality with regard to this disease.

Some people put on more weight than others while they share the same lifestyle.

Medical research has not yet elucidated all the mechanisms causing obesity but recent studies have shown other important factors:

  • psychological disorders (stress, anxiety, depression, emotional disorders) which can lead to disorders in eating behaviour (bulimia)
  • genetic (presence of genes which prevent  the feeling of satiety)
  • medical (intake of certain medications)
  • hormonal (puberty, menopause, stress, thyroid disorder)
  • intestinal function and composition the intestinal flora
  • exposure to pollutants
  • environmental” factors, such as for example the mother’s diet during pregnancy.

In its population surveys, Sciensano investigates the problem of obesity by analysing the practice of physical activities, the Body Mass Index (BMI) and the dietary habits of the population. 

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